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Incident Response: A Strategic Guide to Handling System and Network Security Breaches. by Russell Shumway, Dr. Eugene E. Schultz. Publisher: Sams.
Table of contents

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What are the escalation procedures? Do you have out-of-band communication procedures in case networks are impacted? How do the hand-offs work? What data are you going to have access to? Be sure to test the process with the CSP if possible. Ensure the CSP has contacts to notify you of incidents they detect, and that such notifications are integrated into your process. For click-through services, notifications will likely be sent to your registration email address; these should be controlled by the enterprise and monitored continuously.

Ensure that you have contacts, including out-of-band methods, for your CSP and that you test them. SaaS: In a multitenant environment, how can data specific to your cloud be provided for investigation? For each major service you should understand and document what data and logs will be available in an incident. Don't assume you can contact a provider after the fact and collect data that isn't normally available. For example, do you have tools to collect logs and metadata from the cloud platform? Do you have the ability to interpret the information? How do you obtain images of running virtual machines and what kind of data do you have access to: disk storage or volatile memory?

Architect the cloud environment for faster detection, investigation, and response containment and recoverability. This means ensuring you have the proper configuration and architecture to support incident response:. Detection and analysis in a cloud environment may look nearly the same for IaaS and quite different for SaaS. In all cases, the monitoring scope must cover the cloud's management plane, not merely the deployed assets. You may be able to leverage in-cloud monitoring and alerts that can kick off an automated IR workflow in order to speed up the response process.

Some cloud providers offer these features for their platforms, and there are are also some third-party monitoring options available.

What’s in a Name? Defining Event vs. Security Incident vs. Data Breach

These may not be security-specific: many cloud platforms IaaS and possibly PaaS expose a variety of real-time and near-real-time monitoring metrics for performance and operational reasons. But security may also be able to leverage these for security needs. These could range from operational logs to full logging of all API calls or management activity. Data sources for cloud incidents can be quite different from those used in incident response for traditional computing.

There is significant overlap, such as system logs, but there are differences in terms of how data can be collected and in terms of new sources, such as feeds from the cloud management plane. As mentioned, cloud platform logs may be an option, but they are not universally available. Ideally they should show all management-plane activity. It's important to understand what is logged and the gaps that could affect incident analysis.

Is all management activity recorded? Do they include automated system activities like auto-scaling or cloud provider management activities? In the case of a serious incident, providers may have other logs that are not normally available to customers. One challenge in collecting information may be limited network visibility. Network logs from a cloud provider will tend to be flow records, but not full packet capture.

Where there are gaps you can sometimes instrument the technology stack with your own logging. This can work within instances, containers, and application code in order to gain telemetry important for the investigation.

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Pay particular attention to PaaS and serverless application architectures; you will likely need to add custom application-level logging. External threat intelligence may also be useful, as it is with on-premises incident response, in order to help identify indicators of compromise and to get adversary information. Be aware that there are potential challenges when the information that is provided by a CSP faces chain of custody questions. There are no reliable precedents established at this point. Forensics and investigative support will also need to adapt, beyond understanding changes to data sources.

Always factor in what the CSP can provide and whether it meets chain of custody requirements. Not every incident will result in legal action, but it's important to work with your legal team to understand the lines and where you could end up having chain of custody issues.

What is Incident Response?

For example, evidence could be lost due to a normal auto-scaling activity or if an administrator decides to terminate a virtual machine involved in an investigation. Some examples of tasks you can automate include:. You can also leverage the capabilities of the cloud platform to determine the extent of the potential compromise:. This will often involve invoking break-glass procedures to access the root or master credentials for the cloud account, in order to ensure that attacker activity isn't being masked or hidden from lower-level administrator accounts.

Remember: You can't contain an attack if the attacker is still in the management plane. Attacks on cloud assets, such as virtual machines, may sometimes reveal management plane credentials that are then used to bridge into a wider, more serious attack.

Step 1: Follow the Incident Response Plan to Mitigate the Threat

The cloud often provides a lot more flexibility in this phase of the response, especially for IaaS. Software-defined infrastructure allows you to quickly rebuild from scratch in a clean environment, and, for more isolated attacks, inherent cloud characteristics—such as auto-scale groups, API calls for changing virtual network or machine configurations, and snapshots—can speed quarantine, eradication, and recovery processes. For example, on many platforms you can instantly quarantine virtual machines by moving the instance out of the auto-scale group, isolating it with virtual firewalls, and replacing it.

However, you still need to ensure the exploit path is closed and can't be used to infiltrate other production assets. That said, these capabilities are not always universal: with SaaS and some PaaS you may be very limited and will thus need to rely more on the cloud provider.


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As with any attack, work with the internal response team and provider to figure what worked and what didn't, then pinpoint any areas for improvement. Pay particular attention to the limitations in the data collected and figure out how to address the issues moving forward. It is hard to change SLAs, but if the agreed-upon response time, data, or other support wasn't sufficient, go back and try to renegotiate.

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Incident response a strategic guide to handling system and network security breaches

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To Prosecute or Not? Guiding Principles. Forensics Hardware. Forensics Software. Acquiring Evidence. Examination of the Evidence. Covert Searches.

Advanced Searches. Home Use Systems. Types of Insiders. Types of Attacks.


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Focus: Honeypots. Technical Advances. Social Advances. The Progress of the Profession.